After creating Superhero Masks and Capes the children started playing with all kinds of imaginative superpowers, from magic spells to magic weapons. Trying to take this exploration a step further, I encouraged each child to sketch their powers before sculpting them in clay. The children were so engaged in the process, and in general with the topic of superheroes, that we ended up with a whole set of Superheroes in Clay as well as a final Superhero Mixed Media Collage.
- Clay (this one air dries and is easy to handle for little hands)
- Loose parts (toothpicks, feathers, sequins, foam shapes, pompoms, pipecleaners, wood shapes, beads etc.)
- Colored pencils or markers
- Craft wire
- Wooden blocks
Step 1: Sketch your power
Set out an array of colored pencils, markers and paper. Before inviting the children to sketch their superpowers we asked questions like:
“What color is your power?”, “What sound does it make?” and “What would you do with it?”.
Magical Thinking and Superpowers
While sketching, the children pondered a lot about which parts of their powers are real and which powers are pretend powers. As children try to make sense of their world and build and organize their experiences, their minds still move easily between fantasy and reality. This is a normal stage of toddler development and it’s important that we allow children to explore and create their own theories and understandings to sort out what’s real and what’s not. Distinguishing between fantasy and reality will become a important developmental step during the kindergarten years once children have gathered more information about the world which will enable them to draw more rational conclusions.
Step 2: Warm up the clay
Before you begin to create, invite the children to pinch, massage and pound a fist sized amount of clay to get it to warm up. Children love doing this! I also usually show how to model some simple shapes to start with: Roll a ball to start any clay project with, flatten the clay into a pancake, roll a ball again and then a snake. We also practice using our finger tips to smoothen out the clay so that it won’t fall apart when drying.
Step 3: Start creating
Set out loose parts to decorate the clay and invite the children to freely start creating. I took photos of their superhero masks and also left the sketches of their superpowers on the table to enhance connection with their ideas about superpowers.
After creating superpowers from clay, the children asked if we can sculpt whole superheroes next. Wire frame sculptures worked well for us though some of the 3 year old children needed help attaching the first layer of clay while others found their own inventive ways of attaching the clay to the wire. The whole process was quite experimental with children that young and I wasn’t sure if it would turn out too frustrating but everyone seemed to enjoy it and did surprisingly well.
Step 1: Make a wire frame
Since most of the children’s superheroes were animals or persons with special powers they could easily tell me a basic shape that I would then sculpt with wire the day before this project: To make a mounted wire figure frame, wrap a 25 inch long wire around a wood block (we used disregarded building blocks) and bend and twist the ends in any desired shape.
Step 2: Start sculpting
Show the children how to take a small amount of clay, pinch it in your fingers until it’s warm and then press it around one part of the wire at a time. There’s quite some engineering involved as well: Pick up a bit or a lot of clay and ask the children if they’d think the wire can hold that much and then show that using too much clay will be too heavy and might bend the wire figure down. Also remember that we want to use our finger tips to smoothen out the clay so that the different pieces won’t fall apart when drying. And you could talk about how older children might offer their help to younger children and how special projects sometimes need a lot of patience.
Step 3: Decorate
Once the children are satisfied with their clay figures, offer them to further decorate their superheroes with loose parts. Show how to lightly press the materials into the clay.
Step 4: Reflect and discuss
After sculpting give your figures names and let the children explain what powers they gave their sculptures. My group invented funny and very thoughtful scenarios for themselves, including protective powers in their sculptures in form of colors or protective gemstones, exploring space – living alone away from home (but including a toolkit to repair the rocket ship to fly back!), exploring power and strength, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and giving shape to ‘bad’ clay guys – still trying out different roles without judgement.
Aren’t they just adorable?
Step 5: Exhibit
Since parents often express concerns about ‘violent’ and ‘rough and tumble’ behavior during superhero play, documenting and/or exhibiting projects like this can be an opportunity to educate about magical thinking and the many reasons and benefits of superhero play. We exhibited our Superhero Masks, Clay Superpowers and Superhero Mixed Media Collages.